Are you a brave innovator or lacking in courage?

By Judith O’Neill*

THE challenge today for leaders at every level (not just in the travel and tourism industry) is no longer merely to outsmart and outmanoeuvre the competition.

It is to out-think the competition in ways big and small; to develop a unique point of view about the future and help your company get there before anyone else does. Which is why a defining challenge of leadership is the answer to a question that is as simple as it is powerful: Are you a brave innovator or do you lack courage?

Travel sellers in many market segments are feeling the pinch of competition, consolidation and “do it yourself” aficionados. While there is no nonstop ticket to success, either in travel or any other industry, travel sellers can innovate their way to better business results, according to Robert Tucker, an innovation guru and bestselling author of Innovation is Everybody’s Business.

Accepting and welcoming change is a given in the travel and tourism industry, however being innovative can take courage. Innovative success strategies can help travel sellers find new ways to attract new business and keep existing business.

Innovation matters in selling travel

If you’re selling travel, you can do one of two things. You can complain about all of the reasons you’re not succeeding – competition from direct booking on the internet; non-commissionable airfares; consultants not asking for the booking; consultants (and you?) not following-up to ask for the booking.

Or you can summon up the courage and start having fun thinking up new ways to add value for your customers (as well as asking for their booking!).

Adding value for customers

A lot of travel agents’ clients have tried booking their own travel to save money. Your solution: Charge a flat fee and handle all the details.

Charging fees for planning travel is not innovative – you should have been charging them for years. What’s different is how you present your fees: “What’s more valuable, your time or your money?” If you’ve got the right kind of client the answer is automatic – their time. You are not actually charging a fee; you are saving your customer time to do something more valuable, and ensuring that all arrangements are spot on, confirmed and all at the “right price”. That’s innovation!

Fostering innovation in a travel agency

Innovation is not a functional skill, like booking a ticket. We’re talking about skills that allow you to see where you need to move into the future. These are very specific innovation skills. Innovation is seeing a problem and recognising the opportunity. Innovation is taking the thought “There’s got to be a better way to do this” and coming up with a better way, like presenting a service fee as a value-add for the client instead of an additional cost.

Who is the chief innovator in a travel agency?

Innovation is everybody’s business. Literally. It’s not the owner or manager as innovator: it is every person in the agency. You have to ask for peoples’ ideas, recognise them, implement them, and reward them. You have to put innovation on the calendar.

“All Things Considered”

Hold an “All Things Considered” meeting every month. Skip the day-to-day management issues and focus on all the things your customers are telling you, talking about, and asking for. Then consider ways to deliver it to them. Anybody can directly buy a ticket to anywhere today. Travel agents have to demonstrate new ways to add value to the client experience. For agencies that continue to work in the same old way (and who do not understand “selling”) there is grave danger that they are not going to survive.

Learning to innovate

Just do it! Innovation is thinking about different ways to do familiar things, trying things, discarding what doesn’t work, and starting over. And do it yourself – don’t wait for others to do it for you.
We are forever trying new things. When something doesn’t work – and most things don’t work the first time around – we toss it out and try something else.

The reality is that you don’t have the luxury of sitting back and not innovating. You are in an industry that is constantly being disrupted by new entrants, new technologies, and new ideas.
Embrace all the new ideas, new technology and social technology, and if you need help with that, engage a business coach or seek a mentor to share their entrepreneurial knowledge and boost your courage to innovate.

*Judith O’Neill is a management consultant, business and corporate coach. She is the principal of Aspirations Consulting and is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Judith can be contacted on telephone (02) 9904 3730 or email: [email protected] or visit



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